Want to Change Your Child’s Life? Give Them Music Lessons

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof,
Because I’m happy. –
Pharrell

At last month’s Grammy’s, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” won Best Pop Solo and Best Video, and his live performance galvanized the audience. It’s easy to see why his snappy, motivational tune has been so successful.

Yet, it was his CBS Sunday Morning interview that made the comments fly on Facebook. Why?

Because on CBS, Pharrell credited his high school music teachers for his success, right along with his grandmother, who originally suggested he take drum lessons at age 15.

Yes, the man that Billboard magazine called “the top music producer of the past decade” named his high school band teachers (all of them) as the principle reasons for his success.

WHO BENEFITS FROM MUSIC LESSONS

It’s not just explosive talents like Pharrell who benefit from music lessons. Even when the horn playing is less than perfect, musical training helps children in numerous ways, according to a study in theJournal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development, confirms that playing instruments helps develop fine motor skills right along with emotional and behavioral maturation. To reach these conclusions, the researchers analyzed data including MRI scans of 232 healthy children between the age of six and 18 who play a musical instrument.

"What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control,” said James Hudziak, M.D., a psychiatrist and the lead researcher, in this Washington Post article.

We’ve known for some time that the cortex, or outer layer of brain, changes in thickness a­s a child develops. As neuroscience advances, we’ll know more about the exact pathways that make practicing an instrument such a beneficial activity, especially for kids with ADHD.

This underscores one of the arguments for keeping music in the elementary school curriculum i.e. that making music involves whole brain processing, which ultimately trains the brain.

In fact, both music training and music therapy help those with ADHD in areas of working memory, executive functioning and other high level skills that become significant as we humans mature.

For now, I strongly recommend that my patients and their families select an instrument and follow Pharrell’s lead. You don’t need to hire Pharrell’s teachers, whose names were Mrs. Warren, Mr. Warren, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Sharps and Mr. Copley.

Find your neighborhood music teacher and have your child select an instrument whose sound piques their interest.

Parents may also need to get a great set of noise-proof ear phones for those early days of practice!

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.